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There seems to be a disturbing trend (at least I find it disturbing) that younger Christian leaders—both church and para-church—are taking their freedom found in Christ with such liberty that they’ve thrown wisdom out the door. Lately and more frequently, I’ve noticed young leaders smoking cigars, drinking, using foul language and participating in impolite behavior.
There seems to be a culture of “cool” for Christian leaders to gather at sports bars or cigar shops all in the name of, “I’m free in Christ, so I can [fill in the blank].”
My question is this: is this liberty or license? And perhaps more importantly, where’s the contextual wisdom? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a beer or glass of wine with dinner. I don’t care much for cigars because I think they stink and look silly hanging out of your mouth, but I don’t have a specific issue with a Christian leader that chooses to smoke them. And we all have been guilty of letting our carnal nature take over when that person cuts us off on the freeway and let some unholy language slip out. That’s not what I’m talking about here. This isn’t about legalism and setting up a bunch of rules. My disturbance isn’t that a pastor may drink a beer from time to time while out with mature believers. My issue is this: have you, Christian leader, stopped and considered the witness that is presented when you do?
Should you really go to a sports bar with Bibles in hand and church t-shirts on and order a couple pitchers of beer? Are you somehow deceiving yourself that the rest of the people at this sports bar think that you’re cool when really, in the backs of their mind, they’re thinking, “Christians shouldn’t be doing this. I thought they had a higher moral code.”
If it’s that easy to cross the bridge into carnal things, then where do we draw the line? What about the unmarried leader who goes on a trip with his girlfriend and announces that they’re sharing a room? Only the leader, his girlfriend and God know whether they behaved themselves, but what kind of witness does that show to others? According to my Bible, Christians—especially Christian leaders—are commanded to be set apart from the world. In it, but not of it. When we focus on exercising our liberty rather than exercising contextual wisdom over that liberty, there’s little to no distinction between us and the world.
What do I mean by contextual wisdom? Let me give an example. Years ago, when I was working in homeless ministry, many of the people coming to us for help were in recovery from alcohol and drug addictions. I had a young man from the mission come to my house one day. He was about six months clean and was trying hard to walk with the Lord and leave his old life behind. He looked in my refrigerator and saw a six pack of beer, and because of his spiritual immaturity, he was completely discouraged that I would encourage others not to drink while I drank myself. After that experience, I came to the realization that I needed to use wisdom in the context of my position in ministry. I made a commitment not to drink at all while I was working in homeless ministry, a commitment I kept until at least a year after I left that type of ministry. It wasn’t I thought that my drinking was wrong, but I felt I could become a stumbling block to those who observed my lifestyle.
My question to the young leadership out there is this: how do you think that drinking, cussing, smoking or any other worldly activity advances the Kingdom? Especially when it’s practiced in the context of those who observe and can make a judgment based on their immaturity and lack of faith? Exercise that contextual wisdom. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
About Michael Stickler
Mike is an author, radio host, and a highly sought-after motivational speaker. His best-selling book, A Journey to Generosity, is widely acclaimed throughout the Christian community. He is the publisher of Generous Living Magazine and writes for the Christian Post, 'A Generous Life' column.